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Interactive TV technology

Fri, Mar 4th, 2011
Posted in Education

Fillmore Central is now sharing a class with Spring Grove Schools using Interactive TV technology. Pictured is Principal Heath Olstad, IT Technician Jeff Thompson, and the two students taking the shared class, Kate McIntosh and Jessie Tammel.

Jeff Thompson works as the IT technician at both Fillmore Central and Spring Grove schools. As a computer person, he is very excited about new technology that could mean big changes in the future of education.

Interactive television (ITV) has allowed two students at Fillmore Central to attend a class that is given in Spring Grove. Kate McIntosh and Jessie Tammel sit in on a Home Interior Design class that is taught by a teacher more than twenty miles away, all thanks to a grant.

Thompson explained there are 22 schools in southern Minnesota involved in the Generation Now Learning Project made possible by the RUS (Rural Utility Service) grant. Ryan Luft of Southland started a group of schools from the Southeast Service Co-op, a group that worked together to apply for this grant. The money the schools received paid for staff training and the equipment needed for the interactive class.

"It really worked out with Spring Grove and Fillmore Central because they are on the same block schedule," said Thompson. "It's really ideal, because lining up the schedule would be extremely difficult otherwise."

Nancy Gulbranson teaches the class from Spring Grove, where she is also the principal. The students at Fillmore Central sit in a room with the large television screen that is connected to one in Spring Grove. The students can see and hear everything that is going on.

"It's just like being there," said Thompson.

Thompson said it didn't take long into the first class before the barrier of the television screen disappeared. "There are no limitations with the ITV system," he said. "It's just no big deal to them." He added they talk to the kids in the class just like any other group of students.

"I'm extremely fired up about this," shared Thompson. "All schools are facing budget cuts and declining enrollment. If we can get students into the classrooms without sending them on the bus, this will be great."

Another bit of technology that is being used more in schools is Google Docs. Google Docs allows the kids to use word processing, power points, and spread sheets and save them to the Google server. Students can take notes and do homework assignments and share them with anyone who has access. The teacher in another location can read the assignments instantly.

Fillmore Central science teacher Darrin Ellsworth has also attended training on the ITV, and Thompson is hoping he will be offering a shared science class with Spring Grove sometime in the future.

Thompson said he has wanted the school to implement this technology for a number of years, but the money has never been there. Thompson is excited about all of the possibilities and all of the things the school could offer, including shared staff development with other districts.

Another way that ITV could change things in smaller schools is being able to offer classes that might not be available otherwise. Thompson said there are classes in certain areas that are getting smaller, and they are difficult to offer when there are only a few students interested. Using this videoconferencing technology, a class could be offered at Fillmore Central that would be taught by a teacher in any of the other schools involved.

Thompson told of a Spanish teacher in Spring Grove that used the internet program Skype and a laptop to connect to a classroom in Mexico. This gave their learning a new dimension, something that the students will always remember. The ITV program uses a large, hi-definition screen with many features that make the students feel connected.

Another bonus to the ITV is the ability of the schools to register online for ITV field trips. Students can be connected with places like NASA and the Smithsonian, almost like they were really there.

Thompson is grateful to Gulbranson and Fillmore Central Principal Heath Olstad for stepping up and giving ITV a try. He said his goal is to use the staff they have and maybe even bring more students to Fillmore Central.

"We have to look at how we can use it," said Thompson. "We could offer so many more things. We have classes that we could add numbers to if we offered it this way."

Advances in technology mean changes in the way students are learning, changes that can mean convenience and more opportunities. The ITV program is just one step in making these changes.

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